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Chinatown is a living, breathing, anything-but-quiet ethnic enclave with vibrant streets full of food shops selling vegetables and fish (some still alive and squirming), Chinese restaurants and bakeries, massage parlors, Buddhist temples, herbalists, and barbershops. A quarter of the city's nearly 700,000 Chinese residents live here, in a neighborhood that started as a 7-block area, but now covers
some 40-plus blocks above and below Canal Street (encroaching on what was once a thriving Little Italy). Head to Mott Street, south of Canal, Chinatown's main thoroughfare, where the first Chinese immigrants (mostly men) settled in tenements in the late 1880s. Walk carefully, as the sidewalks can be slick from the ice underneath the eels, blue crabs, snapper, and shrimp that seem to look back at you as you pass by. You can create a movable feast here with soup dumplings,Peking duck, a yellow custard cake, and a jasmine bubble tea—each at a different place in the neighborhood. A city tourist-information kiosk on a traffic island where Canal, Baxter, and Walker streets meet can help you with tours, and also has a map that's very useful for unraveling the tangled streets in the area.
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